Argentina has thrown Southern Hemisphere rugby into turmoil, despite having no wins from four games in the Rugby Championship.
What they have done is draw with the Springboks, threaten the All Blacks and, on the weekend, only just lose to the Wallabies in Australia.
Saturday’s (Sept. 15) game against the Wallabies on the Gold Coast will do wonders for the Pumas, despite their disappointment at failing to secure a win.
“We had the game in our control, then for the last 20 minutes we only tried to hold on,” said frustrated Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who added that a tougher, must-win attitude was needed.
The 23-19 victory moves Australia to second place in the Rugby Championship—they will have to beat South Africa in Pretoria to keep that place.
While the win has quieted the chorus demanding the sacking of Wallaby coach Robbie Deans, the poor standard of the Wallaby play has fuelled fan discontent.
Like Australia, South Africa is under-performing. Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer is facing intense criticism.
No-one would be surprised if both coaches were sacked this season, such is the level of discontent.
That suggests that both teams are hopeless.
But Australia is ranked second in the world, South Africa third.
Both sides were expected to finish second and third in the Rugby Championship. That looks likely.
South Africa has a new coach and is rebuilding after a post-world-cup player exit—Meyer is pushing his “style,” despite it being labelled old-fashioned and doomed to failure.
Deans has coached Australia for five years—he has failed to create “his” Wallaby side.
Fans are unhappy with both teams for almost entirely different reasons.
Meyer is a proud South African. To his mind, the Springboks represent the nation on the international stage. He is honor-bound – before god and country – to carry the mantle of former Springboks sides.
Deans is a proud New Zealander. He sees rugby as “an industry,” which is why his skills, honed with the NZ Super side the Crusaders and the All Blacks, are transferable.
Meyer’s game plan was conceived long before he was born. It is based on traditional Springbok strengths, such as: brutal forwards, dominant set pieces and combative defense. All under-pinned by aggression (not so long ago “aggression” would have read “thuggery.”)
Deans seems to have no game plan. His selections seem similarly ad-hoc. For example, this year he has dropped, then re-instated, two genuine stars, fullback Kurtley Beale and flyhalf Quade Cooper. This week he again said he was considering dropping Cooper.
In essence, Meyer is being criticized for being too conservative and too labored. In a word, out-dated.
Deans is being criticized for being too modern and for telling the Wallabies to “play what’s in front of you.” In a word, directionless.
In both cases, the judges, the public, have spoken. Both coaches should be sacked.
Meyer won’t be fired. It’s his first year.
Deans probably won’t be. He was appointed by Australian rugby boss John O’Neill, who remains a supporter.
However, next year Australia hosts the Lions, the combined UK and Northern Ireland side. Ideally, they want stability leading into that highly anticipated visit. On the other hand, they need a “winning” coach.
The road ahead is a nightmare for Deans. First the Wallabies play the Springboks at the great Loftus Versfield, in Pretoria, in deepest Africa. Meyer’s hand-on-the-heart approach was nurtured there, long before he was a successful coach of the Super side, the Blue Bulls.
I think the Springboks will be unbeatable at home, given the circumstances.
Whatever happens in Africa, Deans then takes his Wallabies to Argentina for the first time in the Rugby Championship. With passionate home-ground support, the Pumas will throw everything into this historic encounter.
With two games remaining, the Pumas have already performed beyond expectation. Some sides would be happy with that achievement. But the Pumas seem like a death-or-glory side, to their credit.
New Zealand is coasting along unbeaten, though the Springboks troubled them in Dunedin last Saturday. The All Blacks won 21-11, but errors and penalties cost the Springboks dearly – and may have cost them the game.
This weekend is a bye for all teams.
Peter Lalanabaravi has over 30 years experience as a rugby writer.